Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rhubarb Crumb Steamed Pudding

DSC_0126 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

After completing my first Daring Baker's challenge last month, and being a bit disappointed about the results, I was anxious for the unveiling of this month's challenge.

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

I put off completing this challenge for a few weeks for a variety of reasons. Mostly, my time is a wee bit limited nowadays. With no time, I couldn't research traditional British puddings, compare recipes or brainstorm flavor combinations.

Secondly, I admit, I was initially not very excited about the challenge. After all, the host described these puddings as "homely". Also, I had absolutely no idea how this "pudding" would taste.

Lastly, the less than plentiful crop of early spring fruits was creating a bit of an obstacle. For the first few weeks in spring, the farmer's market had only potatoes and onions.

But, sometimes, procrastination does pay off. I put this challenge off long enough to be greeted by the bright red stalks of fresh rhubarb. Funny how just the sight of this fruit seems to signal an end to the long winter and gesture in the warmer, happier days of spring.

I purchased just two stalks, as rhubarb is a bit on the expensive side, enough to be poached for the two individual puddings I had decided to create.

I lightly poached the rhubarb in a combination of water, blood orange juice, vanilla and honey. While the poached rhubarb was cooling, I reduced the poaching liquid to the most beautiful, shiny red glaze I had ever seen. There was just enough glaze to be drizzled over the dessert as the final, sweet touch.

As the top layer of the steamed pudding, I incorporated a thin crumb layer, just to add a little extra sweetness to the rhubarb.

Finally, it was time to venture into unmarked territory. It was time to actually create and steam the pudding.

Confession: I whimped out. I did not use suet. I used butter instead. But, I promise you - it will be okay. Butter makes everything better!

Using a small, mesh sieve to rest the pudding on, I could only fit one individual springform pan in the pot. I brought it to a boil, then lowered the heat at let it do it's thing.

I snuck a peek here and there. But nothing seemed to be happening. Just a lot of steam and gurgling.

Most recipes instructed a steaming time of at least two hours, but for a full-sized pudding. So, I checked mine after an hour. I inserted my little cake tester and it emerged with just a few stray crumbs. Time was up!

I might have forgotten I used leavener in the recipe. I might have filled the batter all the way to the top of the pan on accident. But I admit nothing.

DSC_0076 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

It was an easy enough fix after all.

DSC_0083 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010 DSC_0085 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

See? Now I had a flat bottom for the steamed pudding and I could taste just a little piece.

DSC_0087 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

It was heavenly. Amazing. The most moist, creamy cake I had ever eaten with a deep, yet light flavor.

I added the cooled, poached rhubarb - now a bright, beautiful pink hue - on top of the creamy, crumb layer and drizzled the reduced poaching liquid over the pudding.

DSC_0118 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

I served the steamed pudding with homemade frozen yogurt, although I think it would have been even better with a tart, lemon sorbet instead.

DSC_0138 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

This month's challenge was a major success on many levels. The visual result was exactly what I had envisioned when I picked up that first stalk of fresh rhubarb. The taste far exceeded my expectations and I created a recipe which I will keep in my repertoire for years to come.

The success of this challenge reminded me how important it is to continally expand your skills, even if you are not overcome with enthusaism at first glace. Thinking about how you can turn a recipe into your own, into a recipe that you are truly proud of, takes time, energy and patience.

But aren't those successes, the ones we didn't see coming, the sweetest?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

DSC_0079 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

Earlier this week, on the train home from work, I sleepily perused this month's issue of Food & Wine.  Magazine reading is just about the extent of what I have the energy to do after a long shift on my feet.

A recipe for banana chocolate chip muffins caught my eye.  Which is kind of funny, since I hate banana muffins.

I'm not quite sure why I detest banana muffins.  I love bananas and a warm slice of banana bread always reminds me of home.

However, the texture of banana muffins always reminds me of baby food - chunky and a little mealy.  Gross.

But, for some reason, I really wanted to make these muffins.  And I just so happened to have a couple overripe bananas - forgotten in the long days since their promising purchase.

To achieve more of the texture I desired, I was sure to not only mash the bananas, but I also paddled them on the mixer until they were a smooth, creamy consistency.

I also added some whole wheat flour and chopped walnuts to the mix, not only because I felt the flavors would blend nicely with the banana, but also to make them a bit healthier.

Warm swirls of steam escaped the muffin as I opened the center.  The taste was homey and comforting, smooth and tender - like no other banana muffin before.

DSC_0075 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

I loved having these around this week, when I woke up in the morning and was just too tired to make anything for breakfast.  They provide a tasty, healthy start to my day - with just a bit of sweetness from the chocolate chips.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Recently, I learned one very important thing about siblings: you never outgrow sibiling rivialry. No matter if they are 4 or 40, if one sibling receives something the other does not, tantrums will be thrown. Case and point? My uncle and my mother. The battle? Peanut butter sandwich cookies.

When I was visiting my parents in Virginia, my mother admitted that Nutter Butters are her ultimate comfort food. I, stupidly, made the mistake of saying I made a homemade version of these cookies for my uncle's birthday. Apparently, my mother, a devout reader of my blog, missed this post. The scrunched up nose preceded the huffing and puffing. She read my post out loud, in a whiny, bratty voice that would have landed my sister or me in timeout a few years ago. Lordy. Seeing my intelligent, caring, giving, sweet mother reduced to the equivalent of a child throwing a tantrum in a crowded department store was just too much for me. So I whipped up a batch as a thank you for my Mum and Dad. Although, if my Dad was able to sample one of these, I would be highly impressed. To avoid any future outbursts, I decided to include the steps and recipe this time around. Just to be safe.

Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
adapted from Martha Stewart
makes12 cookies

This is a wonderful, homemade version of Nutter Butters. The silky filling is surrounded by a soft, crunchy cookie. Grab a big, cold glass of milk to make a perfect snack.

1 stick (4 ounces) + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Peanut Butter Filling
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preparation Instructions
For the Cookies
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add oats and cook, stiring continually, until lightly toasted, about 7 minutes. Transfer oats to bowl to cool.

Combine flour, baking soda, salt and sugar in medium mixing bowl. Whisk to combine and set aside.

Place 1 cup butter, granulated sugar and dark brown sugar in mixing bowl fitted with paddle attachment. Paddle on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add peanut butter, paddle until well combined. Add cooled oats to flour mixture. Whisk to combine. Add oat-flour mixture to peanut butter mixture. Paddle on low speed until just combined. Turn out dough onto sheet of parchment. Place second sheet of parchment on top of dough. Roll to 1/4" thickness. Chill dough at least 20 minutes.

When dough is properly chilled, use a round cookie cutter to create cookies. Place, about 1" apart, on a sheet tray lined with parchment or a SilPat. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if desired. Bake until sides are just golden, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely on sheet tray.

For the Filling
Combine butter, peanut butter, confectioner's sugar and salt in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Paddle until smooth. Place desired amount of filling on flat side of cooled cookie. Sandwich with a second cookie.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Whoopie Pie Macarons

DSC_0089 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

A few weeks ago, I woke up in the middle of the night in a flash of brilliance.  A way to combine two of my favorite desserts.

Macarons and whoopie pies.  Two chocolate macarons sandwiching whoopie pie filling.

DSC_0086 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

I decided to make them to bring my family.  A family of whoopie pie lovers.

DSC_0114 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

Also a family of whoopie pie snobs.  Our old Maine recipe for whoopie pies is sacred.  No impostors will do.

So, you can imagine the importance of achieving the same flavor combination and balance in my take on the dessert.

DSC_0112 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

They seemed to go over well.  If an empty container is any indication.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A New Beginning

DSC_0100 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

Last Monday was my last day in finance.  My last day stuck behind a computer in a dreary office.  My last day of not having to worry about my bank account.

I took a few days off.  I wasn't going to.  I was excited to jump right into my new career.  But my family suggested that it might be a good idea to take a deep breath.

DSC_0119 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

I'm glad I did.

I enjoyed some beautiful, sunny Spring days with my family in Virginia.

DSC_0166 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010 DSC_0177 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

I shopped and lunched with my Mum.

We toured Chateau Morisette, a lovely winery situated in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains.

DSC_0189 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

We talked and ate and drank for hours on the back deck.

DSC_0052 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

As always, I was sad when it was time to leave and return to city life.  I'm really a country girl at heart.

But, there were some important and exciting adventures awaiting me in New York.

The nice weather continued and I enjoyed spending the weekend with Mike.  I'm going to miss having weekends off together.  I like hanging out with him.

But, now, my vacation from the real world is over.

Today, I begin life as a full-time pastry cook.

I begin working in the afternoon and returning home early the next morning.

I begin working on Saturday and Sunday.

I begin fretting about paying bills.

I begin seeing a lot less of Mike.

Some of these changes excite me, others terrify me.  But, I feel like this is where I belong.  I feel like this is the beginning of a fruitful, rewarding life-long career.

I've become a bit more nervous with each passing hour, leading up to the beginning of my first full-time shift.

I've organized my spice rack.  Organized and cleaned the apartment.  Sharpened my knives.  Checked the batteries in my taser.  Forbidden myself from ironing my chef pants.  Because that's just dorky.

And while I'm nervous, I'm also calm.  My life as an office worker has drawn to a close, replaced with an exciting, passionate beginning and a lot of unknowns.

Last night, Mike and I attended a reading by one of our favorite authors, Ian McEwan.  In the Q&A session, speaking to how he crafts his characteristic endings, he summed up my excitement and fear into one beautiful note:

"Endings are both crucial and difficult."

So here's to the official end of one chapter in my life and the beginning of a new one.

Thank you all for being so kind and encouraging on my path to changing careers.  I wouldn't be here today without you.

DSC_0056 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lemon Ginger Pound Cake

DSC_0082© Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

For Easter this year, Mike and I joined part of his family for brunch at The Carltun on Long Island.

DSC_0073 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

The day was sunny and warm, with just enough breeze to keep us cool.

DSC_0122 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

I brought individual lemon ginger pound cakes as a small gift for everyone. A sunny, bright combination of flavors to welcome a new season of Spring.

I hope you all enjoyed a very happy, relaxing Easter Sunday!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Strawberry Shortcake

DSC_0155 © Dolcetto Confections | Allison M. Veinote, 2010

When I was growing up, my favorite treat on a warm summer night was a slice of freshly baked shortcake with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and a generous topping of strawberries.

The shortcake recipe was passed down through many generations of my family and truly has a perfect kiss of sweetness.

While summer strawberries are the best, often not requiring any extra sugar at all, I couldn't resist buying a pint this past Sunday.  A rainy, chilly spring day just seemed to beckon for a hint of the summertime.

Mike, however, was not convinced.  In fact, he wrinkled up his nose in disgust when he learned the destiny of the strawberries.

I found this offensive.  I informed him of this.  And then I set about to end his four-year standoff against strawberry shortcake.

Enough was enough.

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